Sam Seager's Broken Things

The aftermath of the disasters in Tohoku captured in an intimate photo-documentary

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In a new photo-documentary titled Broken Things, London-based photographer Sam Seager captures the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquake in Tohoku one year after the disasters. He recalls, “Seeing the footage being re-played over and over, I felt a really intense need to see what the situation was really like there, how people were coping and what issues they faced”. A photographer since 1999, Sam began taking photos of street scenes, friends and bands, but became particularly interested in documentary photography over the last few years. His sensitivity towards Japanese culture in the wake of the tsunami compelled him to assemble the book for the people of Tohoku: “I feel lucky that I was able to meet so many people in the two weeks I had there and hear their stories. Those experiences, more than any preconceptions on plans I had, guided what I took pictures of and in that way I hope the book gives a feeling for the wider situation there in Tohoku”. Here, he shares with us some photographs from Broken Things, a reminder of how complex social recovery can be.

(Full images in the gallery above). Captions:

1 (pictured above) – Nehama Beach, Kamaishi. I came here at 6am after hearing from a local physiotherapist, Hamato-san, that this had been his favourite time of the day to visit. Hamato-san had lost family members and his home near to the beach and this period of time around the anniversary was proving deeply sad for him. We spoke for a short time and he said I should go see how sand was finally returning to Nehama and that he was sorry he couldn't take me.

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2 (above) - The March 11th tsunami reached within just a few feet of Kamaishi church and in the days after it was used as a shelter for local people whose homes had been destroyed.  Previously just open to the local congregation it's been opened to the wider community as a kindergarten and meeting place.

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3 (above) - View over the damaged harbour facilities at Otomo fishing port, Takata. In the distance float newly constructed scallop fishing platforms. Local fisheries have been slowly getting back into operation but often at a smaller scale than before.

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4 (above) - Small-scale Wakame seaweed processing at Ofunato.  Walking into this small workshop was one of the most incredible experiences of the trip.  There seemed to be several generations of friends and family working to process the days seaweed harvest while exchanging jokes and gossip.  The owner rustled up some miso soup with fresh wakame for me and pointed out the window to how close the waters had risen to.

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5 (above) – The view of Oshima island from its highest point at the top of Turtle Mountain (Kame-yama).  At the time of the tsunami Murakami-san was visiting Kesennuma and for five days he took shelter in an abandoned house there before finally returning to find his house destroyed and grandma missing. Immediately after the disaster he and his fellow volunteer fire-fighters were active in helping with rescues and putting out the fires that were spreading from burning chemical plants in nearby Kesennuma.

6 (below) - View from the Northern tip of Oshima. The island was virtually cut off after the tsunami and when two weeks later US marines landed they nick-named the island's volunteer fire-fighters the 'honourable crazy group' for their dangerous work with limited resources. The Obaka-tai name has stuck and they continue to co-ordinate relief activities on the island.

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7 (above) - A photograph pinned to the wall of a damaged house on Oshima island. I was hoping to speak to the owner, an old man, but he was sound asleep upstairs and I saw this just outside his bedroom.

8 -  The famous Himawari and it's captain Susumu Sugawara, the only boat to survive the Tsunami and therefore the island’s sole connection to the main land for a week after the disaster. As fires raged in nearby Kessenuma and spread to Oshima it ferried people and supplies back and forth.

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9 (above) - As an Obaka-tai member sails on the ferry to Kesennuma he’s waved off by other volunteers in a high-spirited show of camaraderie. Later I learnt this was just a day trip, and no matter how short the journey the Obaka-tai give their members this flag waving send off.

10 - Taking a break from relief work at the local government office in Oshima.

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11 (above) - Murakami-san gave me a tour of the island including where his family home used to be, a fellow Obaka-tai member’s daughter Ami who was hanging out with volunteers came along for the journey. He made a vital impact on me with his mix of manic, jokey energy and  the emotion in his words when speaking about the island's experiences. He summed up the situation they found themselves in with devastating simplicity 'it wasn't starting from zero but starting from minus'.

12 - Fishermen at Oura Beach in the early morning where I waited to be picked up by Suda-san, a local fisherman, for the journey to Izushima island.

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13 (above) - Temporary housing on the island where many of the remaining people now live after the main village was destroyed. 

14 - Ferry at Izushima, these small craft are a vital lifeline for transport back and forth to the mainland, it's up to whoever's there to assist with the docking.  Here Yoko-san, who was showing me around the island and expecting post, helped out.

15 (below) – The Izushima Middle School, which although unaffected by the tsunami has remained closed due to a lack of teaching staff and students. Without the school families are being forced to move off the island, returning to fish or tend fish farms and the long-term future of the island's inhabitants is now in doubt. In the 1970s the population was 1300 but this had dwindled to 400 prior to the tsunami and now just 100 people remain as permanent residents.

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